Groups file federal lawsuit in Charleston to try and stop seismic blasting

They claim the blasting puts marine life at risk

Groups file federal lawsuit in Charleston to try and stop seismic blasting
Congressman-elect Joe Cunningham stands with environmental groups as they announce their lawsuit against the federal government Tuesday in downtown Charleston. (Source: Krueger, Nick)

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Several environmental groups are suing the federal government over recent authorization of seismic airgun blasting, the process which is used to search for oil and gas below the ocean’s surface and is one of the first steps in offshore drilling.

“Our beaches, out businesses, and our way of life are not for sale,” Congressman Joe Cunningham said. “I’m here today to voice my strong opposition to the administration’s decision to begin the process of exploring our coast for oil and gas.”

Several local, state, and national leaders who represent coastal communities say they will pull out all of the tools in their tool box to stop blasting from happening along the coast.

“I want to point out to you all what the federal government is issuing. They call it in an incidentally harassment authorization,” Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg said. “Our federal government is authoring the harassment of sea life offshore. I would contend to you the federal government is harassing our citizens of South Carolina and I say,'Stop it!”

The groups say the blasting would harm marine life including whales, dolphins and fish.

Filed Tuesday in federal court in Charleston, the lawsuit claims the National Marine and Fisheries Service violated the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act when it issued permits in November to five companies allowing them to conduct airgun blasting in the Atlantic Ocean.

“Ignoring the mounting opposition to offshore drilling, the decision to push forward with unnecessarily harmful seismic testing defies the law, let alone common sense,” said Catherine Wannamaker, senior attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC). “An overwhelming number of communities, businesses, and elected officials have made it clear that seismic blasting, a precursor to drilling that no one wants, has no place off our coasts.”

Those against seismic blasting say it would only be detrimental to the marine life, but also the state’s economy.

“South Carolina shoreline is lined with gold,” South Carolina Rep. Nancy Mace said. “We have a $20 billion tourism industry that people and their livelihoods, their jobs, are dependent upon all along the coast of South Carolina”

The lawsuit claims the seismic blasting would stretch from Cape May, New Jersey to Cape Canaveral, Florida.

“Every town, city, and county that weighed in on these issues has opposed your proposals for seismic blasting and offshore drilling, hundreds of them,” Murrells Inlet Seafood Owner Rick Baumann said. “And thousands of businesses from Maine to Miami, not one municipality on the east coast has spoken out in favor of these proposals, not one.”

In April 2017, President Donald Trump issued an executive order to expedite the airgun blasting.

While the permits were secured by the companies through the National Marine and Fisheries Service, they must also still receive the permits from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, according to the suit.

Environmental groups named in the lawsuit include Oceana, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Southern Environmental Law Center.

Copyright 2018 WCSC. All rights reserved.